The Rev. William C. Bunton is thankful for a second chance.
“God is so awesome. The doctors said I should be maimed, unable to talk. That I should have drooping in my face and a lack of mobility,” Bunton, pastor at Akron’s Mount Olive Baptist Church, said in a recent interview. “I had a constricted vessel on the right side of my brain which stopped blood from flowing to a portion of my brain for more than 24 hours. My doctor said I am nothing short of a miracle.”
Bunton, 57, suffered a stroke in early December and found himself hospitalized without health insurance. Last week, he spoke to a group of pastors during his first public outing since his medical scare.
During a clergy breakfast gathering at the House of the Lord, Bunton urged more than 20 local pastors to take care of themselves and encouraged them to take advantage of health insurance opportunities through the Affordable Care Act. The breakfast was one of several clergy gatherings organized since last summer to help local pastors better understand the federal guidelines and to equip them with information to help guide their parishioners in their search for insurance coverage.
“Parishioners always look to their pastors for answers to a number of issues, and the Affordable Care Act is one of those things,” said the Rev. Carl Wallace, pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Akron and one of the organizers of the clergy gatherings. “We have used these gatherings to remind shepherds to take care of their own health and to help them understand how to explore the options made available through the Affordable Care Act.”
Bunton’s testimony was a good way “to drive home the message,” Wallace said.
Like pastors of many small churches, when forced to make budget cuts, one of the first items that Bunton slashed was a nearly $800 per month health insurance cost. Instead, a plan was put in place to set aside $200 a month for health care.
“It made more sense to do things that way because I was healthy. I wasn’t on any medication. I only went to the doctor for checkups,” Bunton said. “The only time I had ever been in the hospital was to have my tonsils taken out, when I was 28 years old.
“But [with the stroke], I ended up in the hospital with no insurance and had to pay my way to where I needed to be. One bill [out of about 20] that came to the house was $56,000.”
Finding affordable plan
Bunton said his condition forced him to speed up the process of shopping for health insurance. In fact, he searched for insurance on his tablet from his hospital bed via the federal Health Insurance Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov). He found the coverage that he needed for a little more than $200 per month.
Bunton said that after he was discharged from the hospital Dec. 16 — his birthday — he sent in his first payment. He said that while he always has been a proponent of the Affordable Care Act, he is now more committed to encouraging his parishioners and other clergy to enroll in health-care coverage by the March 31 deadline.
“I’m like the poster child. I found an affordable plan, and I have a pre-existing condition,” Bunton said. “I hope people will begin to see that this is not a political issue. This is about taking care of people. A stroke doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.
“The emergency medical crew that came to transport me to the hospital didn’t ask me if I was a Republican or a Democrat. When I showed up at the hospital, with no insurance, all they could do was treat me and send me home when I was well enough.”
Bunton said he began to feel unusual on Dec. 6, a Friday, while bowling in the church league.
“My left side was weak. It felt like I had slept on it. I remember dropping my bowling ball because I couldn’t get a good grip on it with my left hand. So, I decided to sit out,” Bunton said. “The next day, I felt a little strange — no pain, just not like myself. I was planning to go to a church service, but decided to lay down for an hour. When I woke up, I couldn’t see anything. My vision was blurred.”
Bunton said he remained coherent and was able to talk throughout his stay at the hospital. Although his doctor recommended rehabilitation, Bunton was going to be discharged after three days to go home because he had no insurance. At the insistence of his wife and with the help of several advocates in the community, he was able to negotiate a plan to pay for the services.
“I know that it is by the grace of God that I was able to access care that a person without insurance can’t normally access. I’m a guy who they were going to send home because I didn’t have health insurance. I had a stroke, but I was well enough to go home,” said Bunton, who plans his first return to the pulpit Sunday for the 11 a.m. worship service at the church, 1180 Slosson St. “Heath care cannot be determined by political biases, racial biases or denominational biases. We’ve got to start caring about people.
“The intention of the Affordable Care Act is to provide care for people who are hurting and dying. We need to push it and get people to take care of themselves and sign up for health insurance,” Bunton said. “God gave me a fresh start, and I’m going to do whatever I can to encourage people to take care of themselves.”